Viking Tattoos: A Brief History

Viking Tattoos: A Brief History

Everyone has a little rebelliousness inside them, which is perhaps why we all love a Viking-inspired Norse tattoo. Viking tattoos have surged in popularity recently, with their symbolic designs and bad-ass meanings. Here’s Meru’s expert team to tell you all about them…

Want a tattoo that’s every bit as big, bad and bold as you are? Then you might want to look into Norse tattoo design. From intricately woven patterns to seriously menacing, sword-wielding Vikings, it’s a tattoo style that’s ideal for creating impact… but only if you’re man / woman enough to take it on.

However, before you leap in at the deep end and get a horned helmet tattooed on your chest, take some time to find out about the history and meaning of these ancient designs. Trust us, it won’t be one bit like school, and you’ll love it. Are you sitting comfortably? Then Meru’s history experts will begin.

Where Did It All Start?

The Vikings have a pretty formidable reputation for being the scariest dudes on the block, or at least, they were from 790 to 1066AD. When you think of Vikings, you tend to think of hairy blonde men, gleefully raping and pillaging everything in sight, but actually there’s way more to their culture than that.

Vikings were skilled boatmen, and masters of trade too. Their craftsmen were pretty hot at creating intricate jewelry, and there’s evidence to suggest that they were awesome at designing tattoos too.

An eyewitness account from 921 (Ahmad Ibn Fadlan) suggests that the Vikings loved to adorn their bodies with ink. After seeing them in Russia, he stated that all the men were tattooed from their necks to the tips of their fingers; with symbols of trees and people. Although it’s never been proven, plenty of historians agree that those Norsemen loved to decorate their skin in great artwork.

Entering Modern Culture

While the locals might not have been impressed with the Vikings’ enthusiasm for plundering and setting fire to things, they had a completely different attitude to the art they brought with them. Norse artwork, which can be found on everything from ancient axe-heads to necklaces, seriously impressed people – not least because it was so detailed. With hints of Celtic and Germanic design, not to mention ornate Romanesque (yeah, I know, we’re getting technical here, but bear with us), it was unlike anything ever seen before, which is why it was so well received.

Remember that the Vikings were traders, and that there was a captive audience for their artistic wares. Other countries eagerly spent their cash on Norse goodies, and as a result, the designs spread across the world.

What Do They Mean?

One of the best things about traditional Norse tattoos is that they’re laden with symbolism, which makes them a perfect conversation piece, if nothing else. Here are just a few of the most common ones to whet your appetite.

The Helm of Awe

Helm of awe

With a title like that, who can resist? The Helm of Awe is a circular design, and is a symbol of strength, might and protection. It’s exact meaning can be altered to suit the individual; for example, adding extra rune-like symbols around the edge. It’s a fairly simple design, but boy is it strong – perfect if you’re looking for a tattoo with maximum impact.




Ouroboros is an interesting symbol, not least because it occurs in other cultures too. Ouroboros was one of Loki’s children, and is always depicted as a snake eating its own tail. There’s loads of symbolic meaning jammed into this design – such as creation out of destruction, the circle of life (don’t start singing The Lion King, please), and the infinite. Deep and meaningful stuff.

    Horn Triskelion

    Horn of Triskelion

    Now, you may already know that the Vikings were fond of a drink or two. In fact, their idea of the afterlife was basically centered around getting drunk and checking out lots of attractive women. The Horn Triskelion shows Odin’s three drinking horns, all interlinked. And as mythology tells us, Odin was one deity you didn’t want to mess with, given that he was the god of war, death and knowledge.



    Similar in form to the Helm of Awe, the Vegvisir is another simple yet powerful design. For the Vikings, it was a form of signpost – a magical symbol designed to get them through bad weather; which was pretty vital for seafaring warriors.



      Associated with death rituals, the Vulknut is an awesomely simple symbol, made up of three interlocking triangles, and is also a symbol of the man himself – the awesome Odin. This one is ideal for people who love strong, geometric designs.

        Other Alternatives

        The Norse-inspired designs are hugely popular, and for good reason. However, you can still embrace the whole Viking vibe, without adorning your body with mystical symbols. Here’s some inspiration from Meru’s team of tattoo experts:



        New scientific discoveries suggest that there were not only female Viking warriors, but female warlords too. So, what better way to celebrate equality than with an awesome Valkyrie tattoo? Valkyries also carry their own symbolism – of controlling the fates, and deciding who would live and who would die.

        Norse Gods


          Fancy a touch of the divine as a tattoo sleeve or back piece? You won’t go far wrong with a Norse god. The good news is, you’ve got plenty to pick from, because the Vikings weren’t just satisfied with worshipping one or two – they had bucketloads of them. From Hel (the ruler of the land of the dead) to Freyja (pictured above) the fertility god, the only difficulty is knowing which one to settle for.



            Of course, you could also go traditional and get a Viking warrior wielding a sword, or howling in battle. It’s a fantastically versatile design, and we’ve seen huge variety in style; from trash polka Vikings to photorealism close-ups of Norsemen in action.

            Caring for Your Viking Tattoo

            Viking tattoos command attention – because of their subject matter and their high-impact designs. However, it’s vital to keep them looking sharp and vibrant – you want a tattoo worthy of Valhalla itself, not the pits of Hel! Tattoo aftercare is a must; so make sure your Viking design doesn’t go out in the sun without protection, and invest in a great tattoo aftercare cream - your Norse tattoo deserves it.


            Oct 01, 2019

            I have 3 of these tattoo’s myself the helm of awe vegvisor and valknot

            Mark Collins
            May 07, 2019

            Love the info and art and the suggestions as tattoos!!! Keep doing what your doing!!! Thanks!!!

            Jesse roberts

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